A new version of an old tale

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Entertainment,Music,Barbara Mackay

The name Laura Pels is familiar to many theatergoers. In addition to running a cultural foundation, she is a member of the Kennedy Center's International Committee on the Arts and her name graces a theater in New York City. She is also the Artistic Director of Le Theatre de l'Atelier, the Parisian theater troupe that is bringing "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" to the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

This production is being directed by John Malkovich, who appeared in the film "Dangerous Liaisons" and who directed this stage production when it was the hottest ticket in Paris, playing at Le Theatre de l'Atelier from January 2011 to June 2012.

Based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' novel, published in 1782, about how aristocrats wiled away their lives with sexual dalliances and games of emotional and physical control, "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" has been made into a Chinese film, a French miniseries, even a radio drama.

"The original book was about the way the French lived," said Pels. "If you had money, you had other people do all the work and you kept busy one way or the other. It's very French.

Onstage
SSLqLes Liaisons Dangereuses'
Where: The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Lansburgh Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW
When: Thursday through Dec. 9
Info: 202-547-1122; shakespearetheatre.org

"The book was adapted into English by Christopher Hampton. It's an excellent adaptation but John really wanted to do it in French. So he had it translated by a wonderful French translator.

"Then he decided l'Atelier was the right place to do it so he came to see me and we discussed it. When he decided to do it, I could tell right away that this was something I would be proud to have at the theater."

This "Les Liaisons" is not set in a specific time, although cellphones do appear. The staging and casting is unconventional. "The actors are very young," said Pels. "John didn't want well-known, famous actors because when French actors get to be stars they want to do things their way and he had his own image of the play."

Pels is very supportive of Malkovich's directing style. "You can sense John's feeling for the theater and also his feeling for movies in the work," said Pels. "It's a very interesting way of approaching the book. I think John is right when he says this play has to be in French. Only the French would behave like that!

"I'm very happy that Michael Kahn decided to bring "Les Liaisons" to Washington. I hope that Washington audiences will enjoy this play as much as the French audiences did. I think they will. This play really tugs at my heart. You have the sense that the play is a story of people who have never known love and all of a sudden it's there. It's quite wonderful and unexpected."

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